Friday, 31 December 2021

Stillwater: Blu Ray Review

Stillwater: Blu Ray Review


With eerie parallels to the Amanda Knox story, Tom McCarthy's Stillwater is a film that never quite nails the emotional beats it needs to to fully succeed.
Stillwater: Film Review


Matt Damon is Bill Baker, a former oil rig worker, who goes from job to job after being laid off. With a goatee, paunch and a relatively monosyllabic and myopic approach to anything outside his own world, McCarthy's film reveals Baker has a daughter Allison (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin) in a Marseilles jail, convicted of murdering her roommate.

Halfway through her sentence, Allison asks Bill to task her lawyer to investigate a new lead in the case. But when the lawyer says they can't pursue it further, Baker decides, against his daughter's wishes, to look into the lead.

However, Baker is alone in a foreign country, so he strikes up a chance relationship with his hotel neighbour,  a crusader for refugee rights and who decides to help.

Stillwater has an inherent drama to explore, but comes up hollow more than anything compelling.

Despite being nearly two-and-a-quarter hours long, the film leaves its exposition and contrivance of coincidence until near the end, robbing the film of the pacing it's set out, and leaving the audience suffering some kind of "What the?" whiplash.
Stillwater: Film Review


It's a curiously emotionless piece too, with the emotional beats of the story ripped from under you before audiences have a chance to process what's happening - and for a story that's supposed to be about an imprisoned victim of a crime, it chooses to place Breslin's Allison on the very peripherary of proceedings.

That may not matter in parts, with Damon playing Baker as a post-Trumpian refugee abroad, largely unwilling to embrace many of the local traditions of the area he's found himself slung into. But when the time jumps occur near a pivotal moment on screen, the feeling is very much an approach of "we don't care, so why should you?" from the filmmakers.

And yet in amongst it all, there are moments when Stillwater succeeds in its cliched story of a man looking for another chance. Despite largely being under a cap and wraparound sunglasses, Damon still manages to conjure some of the required mettle for the quieter moments imposed upon his character.

His dance with Camille Cottin's Virginie and her young daughter have a real tenderness to it, and a space to breathe from its initial reticence to genuine need for help and connection.

Stillwater(s) may run deep, as the saying goes, but in this film, due to some of McCarthy's flaws, they don't quite run deep enough to assure the richer veins needed - there's power to be had within Stillwater, but it largely remains untapped.

Thursday, 30 December 2021

The Rescue: Disney+ Review

The Rescue: Disney+ Review

Director: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Free Solo's directors take on a story that everyone knows the resolution to - but it robs none of what transpires on the screen of its urgency and compelling nature.

In June 2018, when the Wild Boar soccer team became trapped by monsoon weather in the extensive and labyrinthine cave Tham Luang in Northern Thailand, the world watched hoping for a miracle.

The Rescue: Film Review

For over 2 weeks, the boys and their coach were trapped, threatened by potential oxygen loss and rising rain waters pouring through into the caves. And still the world watched - as did the directors in the aftermath, feeling there was a film with high stakes to be told here.

But what could be a case of a mawkish and almost manipulative documentary becomes something so utterly compelling and intricately told that you'll almost forget you know exactly how it ends.

Using second hand footage, and clever graphics to show the intricacy of the caves, as well as a sprinkling of talking heads from those involved in the rescue, directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi carefully tell the sickening race-against-time story of the volunteer divers brought in from abroad.

It's in the interviews from Rick Stanton, John Volanthen and Aussie Richard Harry Harris that you get the true sense of what lay ahead for them and what they add to both the archival footage and the reconstructions is something utterly gripping.

The Rescue: Film Review

"I've seen chaos, but not on this scale," one of them laments of the scene at the cave, and what the directors do is shape that chaos into something that becomes inspiring and so engrossingly told, that even though you know the outcome, you can't help but have your heart in your mouth as the end nears.

In fact, it's in the final rescue that the enormity of what lay ahead for the rescuers is tactfully and carefully laid bare. Scenes of boys being drugged, fitted with masks and pushed under water are frighteningly nightmarish in this doco, even though none of it is played for drama. The grim reality of the preparations are forensically mentioned, again showing the directors' flair for covering as much of this whirlwind as they could.

Whilst it's a shame The Rescue doesn't have anything from the families and the kids themselves other than archival footage, it does become a salutation of the unsung heroes of the operation - and a reminder that sometimes, just the careful construction of a story can prove to be utter dynamite for movie goers. 

The Rescue is streaming on National Geographic through Disney+ on December 31.

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

House of Gucci: Movie Review

House of Gucci: Movie Review

Cast: Adam Driver, Lady Gaga, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Jared Leto, Salma Hayek
Director: Ridley Scott

From its animalistic sex scene atop on an office table on a construction site to its laughably insulting Italian accents that at times feel like they're from 80s UK sitcom 'Allo 'Allo, Ridley Scott's House of Gucci is a high serving of cheese with a side order of tonal disorder to feed proceedings.

House of Gucci: Movie Review

Driver plays Maurizio Gucci, the ostracised heir of the Gucci family business, who's cast aside when he begins a relationship with Lady Gaga's Patrizia Reggiani. With his disapproving father (an increasingly gaunt and almost vampiric Irons, replete with sunken cheeks and sallow eyes) in the rear view mirror, Maurizio forges a more normal life. 

But Patrizia believes he's entitled to his birthright, and begins to whisper in his ear about power grabs, leading Maurizio into the world he once shunned and the family fights he wanted to avoid.

High on melodrama, draped in elements of camp, House of Gucci's 160 minutes outing is the kind of film that used to be labelled with the word "folly" and all those within condemned to be part of a cult classic for years to come. But as it oscillates between high soap opera and revenge drama, Scott fails to find a balance to walk the two, leaving it more squarely in the kind of territory that renders it neither fish nor fowl.

It doesn't help that Adam Driver is playing a straight dramatic lead in a film that's not straight at all; equally, Lady Gaga's spirited and fiery performance as the ambitious Patrizia keeps the cylinders firing in a film that they deserve better from. 

House of Gucci: Movie Review

Jared Leto's weaselly, eccentric and crazed Paulo Gucci is the perfect example of what House of Gucci does right - and wrong. With an accent that woulda makea your momma blush, his Paulo is the kind of figure that should have been the tragic heart of the film; a character whose descent into irrelevance from the betrayal of others around him in the world of excess would have fuelled a film alone. But he emerges as a figure of comedic fun, fuelled by a rift powered by his father (an OTT, blusterous Al Pacino) - a clear sign that Scott and the script are less interested in depth, and more keen on shallow character once overs.

That's some of the problem with the House of Gucci. 

Despite all the 80s music cues and the occasionally eye-dropping couture, the character beats feel off - even for a 160 minute film. Developments occur because the director and writers feel they should, rather than a naturalistic build of dramatic resonance.

Ultimately, the House of Gucci is a film that feels like it's going to cement its place in history. There will be fevered fans of its fripperies and vehement deniers of any of its charms - but it will be director Ridley Scott who emerges from the House of Gucci with his reputation sullied. It's a film of tonal mistakes, a film of confused identity and a film which may long term hurt its director most of all.

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Ghostbusters: Afterlife: Film Review

Ghostbusters: Afterlife: Film Review

Cast: Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, McKenna Grace
Director: Jason Reitman

Who you gonna call?

Returning after a Covid-induced hiatus, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is solidly and squarely about seizing on the nostalgia of the original 1984 Ghostbusters movie.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife: Film Review


But there's a lot here that is about the effect of legacies.

In this latest, Carrie Coon's Callie and her two children, Trevor (Stranger Things' Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Grace) are forced to move onto their grandfather's abandoned old farm in Summerville, Oklahoma.

Resentful of their fate, both Trevor and Callie try to adjust to life in a small town, and to clear the mountain of debt left by her father; whereas Phoebe, sporting a very familiar pair of round glasses and frizzy hair, finds herself drawn to the town's mysteries. Building a friendship with Paul Rudd's feckless summer school teacher Gary Gooberson, Phoebe begins to investigate how a town miles away from any faultlines is having regular earthquakes......

There's a point in Ghostbusters: Afterlife where the movie basically becomes the original Ghostbusters.

It's a series of scenes that the older ends of the audience will remember from 1984 and the younger audience may not be too aware of. 
Ghostbusters: Afterlife: Film Review


But that's part of what Jason Reitman is trying to do here - and it's also part of what ever so slightly cripples the film's intentions by robbing it of any voice of its own. Most of what transpires here is derivative - a new take on Slimer appears, there are mini Stay Pufts, the next generation of Ghostbusters is born and does little to distinguish themselves from their past and an utterly egregious use of CGI pushes the digital image as far as it should ever go.

It's not that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is not enjoyable in parts. There are certainly moments - mainly nostalgia-led - where the goosebumps tingle and Reitman does his best to manipulate them for narrative use.

Carrie Coon once again makes a case for being one of the most underrated actresses of her time, with her Callie largely leading proceedings with heart and humanity before being horrendously sidelined for the younger generation.

Ultimately, Ghostbusters: Afterlife occasionally feels like Ghostbusters: Afterthought as reference upon reference is shoehorned in - it's stifling and unfortunately, more of a rehash than its own future.


Monday, 27 December 2021

Best Sellers: Movie Review

Best Sellers: Movie Review

Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Sir Michael Caine, Scott Speedman
Director: Lina Roessler

Essentially an odd couple road movie about a washed-up author and a struggling publishing house head, Best Sellers offers some easy laughs, a terrific performance from Aubrey Plaza and everything you'd expect from a cantankerous Michael Caine.

Best Sellers: Movie Review

Plaza is Lucy Stanbridge, whose publishing empire is on the verge of falling to a takeover and who needs one big hit to pull her back from the brink. When she discovers that former cult writer Harris Shaw (Caine) owes them a book from an old contract, she chases it up and reluctantly, he's forced to deliver.

Believing this is her shot, Lucy sets up a book tour for Shaw and the two set across America to sell it - but the nihilistic Shaw is determined to ruin every shot, from drink-swilled appearances to urinating on his book in public. However, the nihilism backfires, and soon Shaw is a cult hit....

Best Sellers does little to challenge perceptions, but delivers a feisty performance from Plaza as Stanbridge, someone who's struggling to find her place out of her father's shadow and who finds an unwanted father figure in Caine's cranky Shaw.

Veering more into safe territory than anything truly challenging, and with Caine pretty much phoning in a performance that you'd expect from the magnificent maestro, Roessler's film does exactly what you'd expect from its mismatched duo road trip. 

Best Sellers: Movie Review

It's fairly formulaic in parts too, with a few sporadic laughs coming mainly from Shaw's insistence on avoiding his contractual obligations. (A confrontation with Carey Elwes' book reviewer being one of the highlights.)

But Book Sellers can't avoid the mawkish and in its final third settles for a more maudlin and emotionally manipulative approach that serves to reinforce all of the cliches and conventions of its story as the curmudgeon reveals his true colours.

Book Sellers isn't a best seller by any stretch of the imagination and a final twist doesn't hit any of the heights it aspires to. Ultimately, it's an easy, but forgettable watch that's less of a cinematic page-turner and more a celebration of a great relationship between its two stars on screen.

Sunday, 26 December 2021

Swan Song: Film Review

Swan Song: Film Review

If you're not won over by the moment Udo Kier's fabulously coutured Pat Pitsenbarger holds up traffic while trundling along a highway in an electric mobility scooter, then you may need to check yourself for a pulse.

Director Todd Stephens' curiously haunting and affecting tale of the aforementioned Pitsenbarger dawdles somewhere in the middle of a true story and an almost effete fable as it spins the story of a hairdresser on the brink of death coaxed out of hospital to perform one last makeover on a once-beloved client.
Swan Song: NZIFF Film Review

Embracing a truly more gentle side from a back catalogue that's promoted ferocity, a fearless Kier emerges as Pitsenbarger, a character based on a true icon from Stephens' own past. Hospitalised in Sandusky in Ohio in the US, Pitsenbarger is on the edge of the end of his life, living haunted by characters from his past, and consumed with quiet rage over a former business partner's behaviour. 

But when he's asked to makeover a dead client from the past, like a Liberace Lazarus, Pitsenbarger rises from his hospital bed to reclaim his rightful place in a community that's seemingly moved on from him.

In truth, Swan Song is nothing short of an utterly melancholic and utterly compelling gentle story that gets under your skin without warning, and is blessed with moments of utter clarity of human purpose and tenderness that you can't look away.

It helps that Stephens' script is bathed in a love for his characters, their journey and Pitsenbarger's life of regrets are ones of universal fears writ large. Granted, there's the added edge of the gay fight in small towns and the spectre of AIDS in the background, but not once does Stephens ever wallow, choosing to paint Pitsenbarger in a glorious light and paint his story in pathos.

Deadpan laconic dialogue laces moments of Swan Song, and there's joy to be had in a scene where skipping rope kids beckon over Pitsenbarger to join their game as Amerie's anthem 1 Thing blasts in the background, but Swan Song belongs solely to Udo Kier.

Kier makes Pitsenbarger and his foibles feel real, lived in, and lamentable - but not once does he ever reduce the character to a weaker stereotype. An understated performance from Kier makes Swan Song soar, and consequently elevates this film to one of the very best on offer at the 2021

Saturday, 25 December 2021

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

To all of those who read, comment and enter competitions on this site, Merry Christmas.

2021 hasn't been the best of years for many, and personally, the last 5 weeks of 2021 have been horrifically hard after my beloved young cat disappeared without a trace (Vale, Slinky, never ever to be forgotten) - so it is a time to remember those we've lost during the past couple of years, and with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 marching on, those who we are currently parted from.

So, again, enjoy a Merry Christmas, whatever is happening and wherever it is happening.
Merry Christmas


Don't forget, the first of the final Doctor Who special episodes of Jodie Whittaker's 13th Doctor takes place on January 1st in the UK. 

Get ready for the Eve of the Daleks....
Doctor Who - The Eve of the Daleks

Friday, 24 December 2021

Being the Ricardos: Film Review

Being the Ricardos: Film Review


Cast: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, JK Simmons, Nina Arianda
Director: Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin's I Love Lucy film promised plenty of drama - and it wasn't just because of the furore directed at the casting of Nicole Kidman as America's sweetheart Lucille Ball.
Being the Ricardos: Film Review


But what it ends up doing is something more akin to presenting you with a range of themes and never quite diving deeply enough into any of them and making you care.

In 1952, Hollywood power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz face personal and professional obstacles that threaten their careers, their relationship, and their hit television show.

It may be one week in their lives, but Javier Bardem's Desi is pictured supposedly cheating on Lucille Ball, Ball's been labelled a communist at the end of a popular radio broadcast and matters are made even worse when a potential baby rears its head threatening America's newest popular sitcom's future.
Sorkin tries his usual approach of throwing many complex balls up in the air, but doesn't quite manage to juggle all of them with the aplomb needed to keep the script feeling fresh.

As previously mentioned, it doesn't help matters that none of the central themes feel massively developed or engaging enough to sustain a 2hr plus biopic, no matter how much star quality Kidman brings to proceedings.
Being the Ricardos: Film Review


Odd touches like starting the film with a series of talking head interviews and then abandoning that format for no bafflingly good reason sit aside moments of brilliance such as Kidman's Ball gazing off into the distance and visualising how her script issues could be solved.

That's perhaps the problem with Being the Ricardos - just how unbalanced the whole thing is, and how it bounces from one moment to the next, leaving ideas feeling unformed.

There are some great performances contained within though - from Shawkat's bristly screen writer to JK Simmons' bitter old hack with a heart, the ensemble players in Being the Ricardos keep the interest levels up when they feel like they should be flagging - largely due to their delivery of Sorkin's trademark deep-dive dialogue.

Being the Ricardos isn't quite the slam dunk the talent involved would have you hoping for - it's the kind of watch that keeps you aloof and at arm's length - in fact, without any prior knowledge, it may well be the audience comes away feeling anything but love for Lucille Ball.

Being the Ricardos is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video

Thursday, 23 December 2021

What's on Shudder in January 2022

What's on Shudder in January 2022

A New Year, a New Fear.
Here's the full list of what's streaming January 2022 on Shudder.
What's on Shudder January 2022


WHAT’S STREAMING THIS JANUARY

ON

IN NEW ZEALAND 

NEW MOVIE PREMIERES AND NEW SERIES 

PLUS NEW ADDITIONS TO SHUDDER’S GROWING LIBRARY, 

INCLUDING GENRE CLASSICS AND RECENT FAN FAVOURITES 

 

NEW SHUDDER ORIGINAL & EXCLUSIVE FILMS 

For the Sake of Vicious Shudder Exclusive 

New Film Premieres 6th January 


Romina, an overworked nurse and single mother, returns home from her late shift on Halloween night  to find a maniac hiding out with a bruised and beaten hostage. When an unexpected wave of violent  intruders descends upon her home, the trio realise that the only way out of the situation is to work  together and fight for their survival. Starring Colin Paradine, Lora Burke, Nick Smyth. Directed by Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen.


Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror -

Shudder Exclusive New Documentary Premieres 10th January 


From writer/director/co-producer Kier-La Janisse comes "a seductive mega-text" (Indiewire) through  the history of folk horror, featuring clips from over 200 films and interviews with more than 50  filmmakers, authors and scholars that explore the rural roots, occult creeds and cultural lore that  continue to shape international cinema. An "astounding achievement" (Screen Anarchy) that Rue  Morgue calls "an unprecedented journey into where folk horror has been, where it's going and  ultimately what it says about humanity." Audience Award Winner SXSW 2021 and Fantasia  International Film Festival 2021, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched has been hailed as "brilliant"  (AV Club) and "mind-blowingly epic" (Film Threat) and stands as perhaps the definitive genre  documentary of our time. 

Written, directed and co-produced by: Kier-La Janisse 

The Last Thing Mary Saw – Shudder Original 

New Film Premieres 20th January 


Southold, New York, 1843: Young Mary (Stefanie Scott, Insidious Chapter 3), blood trickling from  behind the blindfold tied around her eyes, is interrogated about the events surrounding her  grandmother’s death. As the story jumps back in time, we witness Mary, raised in a repressively  religious household, finding fleeting happiness in the arms of Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman, Orphan), the  home’s maid. Her family, who believe they are seeing, speaking and acting on God’s behalf, view the  girls’ relationship as an abomination to be dealt with as severely as possible. The couple attempts to  carry on in secret, but someone is always watching, or listening, and the wages of perceived sin  threaten to become death, with the tension only heightened by the arrival of an enigmatic stranger  (Rory Culkin, Lords of Chaos) and the revelation of greater forces at work. 

Directed by Edoardo Vitaletti. 

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster – Shudder Exclusive 

New Documentary Premieres 27th January 


Beginning just before his debut as Frankenstein’s creation, Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The  Monster compellingly explores the life and legacy of a cinema legend, presenting a perceptive history of  the genre he personified. His films were long derided as hokum and attacked by censors. But his  phenomenal popularity and pervasive influence endures, inspiring some of our greatest actors and  directors into the 21st Century – among them Guillermo Del Toro, Ron Perlman, Roger Corman &  John Landis all of whom and many more contribute their personal insights and anecdotes. Directed by Thomas Hamilton. 

NEW SHUDDER SERIES 

Etheria: Season 3 

New Series Premieres 18th January 

Etheria Season 3 takes viewers to strange new worlds.

With episodes directed by women about  medieval warlords and magicians, musical androids,

apocalyptic western gunslingers, inescapable time  loops, dead body buddy comedies,

middle-aged female mercenary assassins, homicidal hairstylists,  demented surreal slashers

and spare body parts.

As a companion to the streaming premiere of Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, the definitive  documentary on folk horror, Shudder is proud to present a collection of films in the genre,

including new  additions Alison’s Birthday, Edge of the Knife and Eyes of Fire on 11th January, along with City of  the Dead, The Hallow, Impetigore, Jug Face, The Last Wave, Messiah of Evil, The Noonday Witch and Prevenge, already available as part of Shudder’s movie library. 

NEW ADDITIONS TO SHUDDER’S LIBRARY 

4th January 

Meander  

After getting a car ride from an unknown man, Lisa wakes up in a tube.

On her arm is strapped  a bracelet with a countdown. She quickly understands that every 8 minutes,

fire burns an  occupied section. She has no choice but to crawl into safe sections to survive.

To know why  she’s there and how to get out, Lisa will have to face the memories of her dead

daughter. 

The Source of Shadows  

A series of stories woven together by one of our most primal fears, the fear of the unknown. 

11th January 

Eyes of Fire  

A preacher is accused of adultery, and he and his followers are chased out of town.

They  become stranded in an isolated forest, which is haunted by the spirits of long dead Native 

Americans. 

Alison’s Birthday 

Getting its first official release since the VHS era, this Australian paranormal cult is unearthed! 

During a Ouija board session with her teenaged friends, 16-year-old Alison gets a message 

from beyond the grave not to go home for her 19th birthday.

Fast forward three years later to  the week of her 19th: she gets a call from her mother

that they’re having a party to celebrate,  and they want her there alone. 

Edge of the Knife 

Edge of the Knife is a feature length Haida language film about pride, tragedy, and penance. 

Adiits’ii, the lead character in the film, is mentally and physically pushed to the brink of survival 

and becomes Gaagiixiid/Gaagiid — the Haida Wildman. The Gaagiixiid is one of Haida’s most 

popular stories, sustained over the years though song and performance.

18th January 

The Devil Below  

A group of four amateur adventurers who specialize in exploring remote and forsaken places 

pay a visit to Shookum Hills, a town in the remote Appalachian Mountains, which was 

abandoned decades ago due to a mysterious coal mine fire. 

Green Room 

A band straying into a secluded part of the Pacific Northwest stumbles onto a horrific act of 

violence. Because they are the only witnesses, they become the targets of a terrifying gang of 

skinheads who want to make sure all the evidence is eliminated.

Starring Anton Yelchin,  Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat and a terrifying Patrick Stewart. 

Southbound 

On a desolate stretch of desert highway, two men on the run from their past, a band on their 

way to the next gig, a man struggling to get home, a brother in search of his long-lost sister and 

a family on vacation are forced to confront their worst fears and darkest secrets in these 

interwoven tales of terror and remorse on the open road.

With segments from the directors of  Ready or Not, The Night House and Body at Brighton Rock.  

All Cheerleaders Die 

When tragedy rocks Blackfoot High, rebellious outsider Maddy shocks the student body by 

joining the cheerleading squad. This decision drives a rift between Maddy and her ex-girlfriend 

Leena - a loner who claims to practice the dark arts. After a confrontation with the football team, 

Maddy and her new cheerleader friends are sent on a supernatural roller coaster ride which 

leaves a path of destruction none of them may be able to escape. 

28th January 

Come True 

A teenage runaway takes part in a sleep study that becomes a nightmarish descent

into the  depths of her mind and a frightening examination of the power of dreams. 

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